Sometimes things just come together. The plants go in the ground just before a gentle rain falls, followed by warmth and sunshine, so they grow well from the start. A job opens up after months of not much interest when resumes were sent, then housing nearby is easy to find and the move happens just before a big snowfall. Requests for a speaker for an important meeting fall through and then, at the last minute, you get a 'yes' from the speaker you wanted the most. Things like that brighten you day, week or month.
Today things came together on the dinner front. I knew we had some boneless pork that needed to be cooked, I had a yen for polenta, inspection of the produce bin showed that we had both fresh mushrooms and baby spinach. After that it was just a matter of remembering other dishes that were good and borrowing from them. Sautéed onion, mushrooms, celery and garlic can be the base for any number of delicious savory meals. Sage and thyme go so well with pork and with mushrooms.
Julia Child often threw some orange peel into this kind of braised meat dish, so why not this one? Ditto with the red wine and touch of tomato sauce. My mom's stew recipe uses Worcestershire so I added some of that, too, plus a bit of leftover chicken broth to keep the meat submerged in liquid as it braised.
I've always loved polenta with a little Parmesan cheese added and I know that this sort of hearty braised meat goes well with polenta. The spinach? It was the thing that pulled it all together, plus the bright green color is so appealing.
Have fun with this. The wine could be replaced with beer, ale or stout, or even white wine. The fresh mushrooms could be replaced with dried and reconstituted ones. Add more garlic, skip the orange peel, replace the celery with fennel. I'm sure you will still have a wonderful dish that will warm you up on a cold night as it did Sweetie and Elle.
Pork Ragout with Spinach over Polenta
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
4 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/4 lbs boneless pork (I used country rib meat), cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel or a 1-inch by 2-inch piece of fresh orange peel minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
Polenta for 2 - 4 people
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
In a large, heavy bottomed ovenproof pot heat 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil and saute' the onions, mushrooms, celery and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
While vegetables are cooking, heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Blot the meat cubes if necessary. Dry meat browns better than cubes with moisture one them. Brown the pork cubes on all sides, working with about 1/4 of the meat at a time. As the pork finishes browning, transfer to the vegetable pot.
To the vegetables and pork add the sage, thyme, orange peel, salt and pepper, red wine, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce and chicken broth. Cover the pot and place over medium heat on the stove top while you preheat the oven.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. When oven is hot remove the pot of pork and vegetables from the heat and put it into the oven, still covered. Cook for 1 hour, checking in the last 15 minutes to make sure there is still enough liquid so that the contents don't burn.
When the pork has about 15 minutes left, prepare polenta according to the package directions. When cooked stir in the Parmesan cheese.
When the polenta is almost done, remove the pot from the oven, stir in the spinach, and set aside, covered for 2-3 minutes to wilt the spinach. Serve the pork and vegetable mixture over the polenta in wide bowls. Garnish with more grated Parmesan if desired. Serves 2- 4